Thursday, June 04, 2009

Airline Traffic Results for May: Is This the Bottom?

Is this the bottom, with the next trend upward, or are they merely sunk?

Many U.S. airlines have now reported their traffic results for May, and there is no reason to believe the others will be reporting anything substantially different. The results illustrate the persistence of this slump.

In general, passenger traffic remains down, with continuing reductions in capacity. Airlines don't include revenue figures in their monthly traffic reports, but there is no doubt that revenue remains down. Those frequent fare sales still don't seem to be working.

On the other hand, in a sign that someone has faith, United Airlines has asked Boeing and Airbus to work up bids for an order of 150 widebodies and 757s, worth about $10 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal (via Reuters, here).

Fleet replacement is a major capital-spending challenge ahead for the big airlines. United appears to be moving the ball.

By the numbers for May (comparison to May 2008):

--American Airlines: revenue passenger miles (RPM) down 11.7 percent(13.3 percent domestically), on a capacity decrease of 8.8 percent (12.4 percent domestically)

--Continental: RPM down 9.1 percent domestically (7.1 percent internationally). Capacity down 9.5 percent domestic, 6.7 percent international.

--US Airways: RPM down 5.2 percent overall, down 6.2 percent domestic. Overall capacity down 5.8 percent (down 8.1 percent domestic)

--Southwest: RPM down 8.3 percent; capacity down 3.2 percent.

--Alaska: RPM down 7.3 percent; capacity down 8.5 percent.

--AirTran: RPM down 11.1 percent; capacity down 9.6 percent.

On the other hand, look at scrappy little Allegiant Airlines, which is very carefully picking its shots and filling in some blanks on the domestic leisure-travel. Allegiant reports RPMs up 23.9 percent and capacity up 22.9 percent.


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